The recycling bin was especially heavy this week after I went searching for space in a file cabinet in which to file a few hard-copies of drafts and other pieces related to my current writing project. How-tos on scene building, character development, querying, and the like were tumbling off my shelf in our office. What I discovered was an entire file drawer filled with outlines, overheads, and handouts for presentations I’d done as a literacy coordinator and teacher consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. All neatly tabbed, sorted, and archived. Mind you, I’ve been retired for over ten years and in that time, NO ONE has asked me to present. No one.
Yes, I had spent hours developing this pile of stuff. And it was all good. Really. But it has nothing to do with my life now. And no, burdening some young teacher with my old stuff would only add to their work. And it didn’t contain the current buzz words—Common Core or Standards-Based—which would be necessary for inclusion in today’s classroom. So yes. It all went.
De-cluttering has become a habit.
Two and a half years ago, when we moved from our BIG house (basement, attic), to a medium house (no basement, no attic) we tossed or donated about half of our worldly goods. The purge continues. These days, I keep a bag in the sewing/model train room to collect small items as I continue to edit my collection of kitchen utensils, bras, shoes, picture frames, baking tins. jewelry, scarves, doodads, and what-nots. When the bag is full–at least once a month–I drop it off at the nearby donation center. This week my donation will include two large wooden, thirty-year-old dollhouses and tub of furnishings. My granddaughter–the reason I saved them in the first place–says she’s outgrown them.
Nonetheless, some things—like my grandmother’s 1910 Queen Anne sofa with its down cushions—are pretty and useful and comfortable. But I recognize that there will likely come a time and place when having that and her cute old Singer sewing machine (in its cabinet!) are simply too much. And the jam-packed curio cabinet and Hoosier with my collection of Depression glass and vintage snack trays? That will have to go too. But not yet. They still make me happy, although less so as time goes on.
You see, I don’t want to burden my children with too many of these “treasures.” What 30/40-ish person wants three cut glass relish dishes? Certainly no one I’m related to. So, I keep whittling away at my material wealth. Perhaps by the time I am ready to move into assisted living (or am taken to the big garage sale in the sky) there won’t be much left. My daughters won’t have to worry about what to do with all my crap. I won’t be cluttering up their homes. And I hereby absolve them from any guilt about what they must give away.
Serendipitously, many of the meditations in my yoga classes lately have been about de-cluttering our lives and our minds to reveal what is essential, to find focus. I’m finding that particularly apt these days, not only in my physical environment, but in other aspects of my life. I’ll be focusing my posts on that for a while. Have you tried de-cluttering as a habit? What have you discovered?
My final column for the Nevada Appeal, all about how my husband and I looked to the future and decided to take a risk. Twice. Click on over to read more. Times are still a-changing
We now officially own no property. None. And until that check clears, we have no money either. Fingers crossed, breath held until Friday when we (hope to) sign on to the next house.
Now we’ve begun the monumental task of changing every address, utility, credit card, membership, DMV and voter registration, every insurance policy. Again. We just did this when we moved into the apartment in July, just not EVERY little thing since we knew (hoped) it would be temporary. For example, we didn’t order new checks with the apartment address. And since the next election isn’t until next year, we didn’t change our voter registration. We’re in a new county now too. So everything changes. I guess I even need a new library card.
This part isn’t fun. It’s tedious. There’s a reason we don’t do it very often.
In the first few years we were married (when we owned nothing, had nothing), we used to joke that we moved every time the apartment oven got dirty. In the forty years since, we have owned just three houses. Our joke has become that we stay until the house doubles in value. That’s held true so far, starting with the tiny $35K townhouse we bought in San Juan Capistrano that we sold two years later for $70K in 1977.
Whether or not this house can double in value is probably a matter of how long we can stay healthy and hold onto our marbles. I figure we’re good for about twenty years. That would take us to our mid-eighties. By then one or both of us will likely need to move into assisted living. Or memory care. Or the cemetery. But at least when that happens no one will expect me to fill out another change of address.
For those of you who’ve been following this downsizing-and-moving-closer-to-family adventure, the end is in sight! To recap, we had several reasons for starting this process. We are in our sixties, retired, and our old house no longer suited us. It was too big and hard to maintain. We wanted to move before we had to be moved. We wanted to be closer to our daughter and her family. We actually like our family and have missed being nearby. No, we aren’t quite ready for the old folks home, but to be honest, there will likely come a time when someone needs to check in on us. So close is good.
My wish list for this next house was pretty specific and included:
• Close to some shopping and other services, perhaps walking distance
• No steep hills which can be treacherous in winter
• Single level, no stairs, no basement
• Space for an office
• Guest room
• Sewing and craft space
• Space for husband’s workshop so he build and fix stuff
• Two baths. No more, no less
• Stall shower and double sinks in master bath
• Space to park our motor home
• Low maintenance landscaping
• Covered patio
• Open kitchen/family room combination
• Plantation shutters on windows
• Gas fireplace that lights with a wall switch or remote
I figured I’d have to compromise on a few things, but a girl should know what she’s looking for. Otherwise, like the late Yogi Berra says,
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
So when my daughter told me about a nearby open house last month, I went by myself, figuring I’d know pretty quickly if it had possibilities or not. As I followed the signs, I noticed that it was just a couple of streets away from our granddaughter’s school and around the corner from a playground. Not to mention walking distance to the drugstore, the library, and a couple of restaurants. As I parked I noted the three-car garage and no lawn, just lots of mature trees and shrubs. Nice.
The agent hosting the open house was one I’d met and liked at another house a few weeks before. That’s a sign, right?
The front room had a vaulted ceiling and big windows with plantation shutters. At the back was the open kitchen/family room combination with more plantation shutters and a gas fireplace. From there I stepped out onto a covered patio and a huge deck surrounded by more trees adding both privacy and shade. The big master bath has a stall shower, garden tub and double sinks. There were also two smaller bedrooms (guest and sewing!), a second bath with tub & shower, and an office. The laundry room led out to garage with plenty of space for my husband’s workshop in that third garage. And there was room for the motor home in the side yard.
I tried not to act too excited. The place wasn’t perfect and the price was at the top end of what we wanted to spend. It needed some paint (they loved forest green!), maybe new carpet, linoleum, kitchen counter tops and probably a list of other things that wouldn’t show up for a while, but I could actually see us in this house.
However, we were waiting for several contingency dominoes to fall on the sale of our old home. We couldn’t really make an offer. Still, I obsessed about this house. I lurked on Zillow for other houses, but found nothing even close. At long last our buyer firmed up and I felt like my husband should see the house. He agreed. He saw what I saw and wanted to start the offer/counter-offer dance immediately. Long story short–we got it! We’ll be home for the holidays. Whew.
So in the end we sold, donated or dumpstered about half our belongings. We found a lovely, one-story house with one-third less space on a smaller lot that pretty much met every item on my wish list. If I needed a sign that this was the right move, I think this is it.
Next steps? Coordinating the workmen installing new carpet and counter-tops and deciding what color paint will cover up that forest green.
You’ve heard that the three rules of real estate are Location. Location. Location. I submit, however, that it’s not where you are, but who you’re with that’s most important. It’s the people with whom we choose to share our lives, the ones we see most often, that impact our happiness most.
So as my husband and I ponder our next move, one of the biggest decisions we face is simply where—as in which city—our next house will be. And because Nevada cities are widely spaced with miles (and miles) of open highway between, we’ll need to choose and not split the difference.
There are pros and cons for each choice.
Our doctors are in Carson City. My hairdresser. My friends. Our work history. As well as other connections like the Tamale Lady, my yoga class, masseuse, nail shop, book club, and walking buddies. We know the town. It’s small enough to negotiate north to south or east to west in 10-15 minutes. And at this stage of our lives—without jobs or the PTA–we’re not as likely to make new friends. Possible, yes, but not as likely.
Our daughter and her family have moved to Reno. (Add bonus points here.) We can help out with our granddaughter, volunteer at her school, share meals, day trips, and special events. Not that we see each other every day, just a couple of dinners a week, an occasional sleepover or shopping trip. This neighborhood is convenient to shopping, good restaurants, and the freeway. It’s closer to the airport. And seriously, we only see our doctors a few times a year. It’s easy enough to see friends or make hair or nail appointments on the same day.
I feel the scale tipping toward Reno. Today. Fortunately, we aren’t arguing about this. Yet. Northern Nevada has been our home for nearly forty years and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. We love the big blue skies over our heads, the Sierra Nevada out our windows, the change of seasons, and the companions we’ve chosen for the journey. Not a bad place to be. Not bad at all.
In our twenties we moved from our home near the ocean in Southern California to Carson City, a lovely town at the base of the Sierra Nevada. We were 500 miles from our friends and families, including our siblings and our parents. We knew no one. Our slates had been wiped clean of commitments and responsibilities, other than those required of new parents.
In the nearly forty years since, we made friends, raised two wonderful daughters, built a house, our careers, our lives. Together, we constructed a web of routines and relationships that supported us and bound us to a place. So this summer’s move to Reno, even though it’s less than an hour away, has disrupted things in somewhat surprising ways. The move once again wiped my slate clean, as if a zephyr had swept through and blown away everything we didn’t hold tight. Each other, our family, a few friends, a comfortable bed with those pricey, high-thread-count linens, and regular appointments with my hairdresser. You know, critical stuff.
We keep our two reasons for this move in mind: downsizing our home into something more manageable as we age and being close to our daughter. Okay granddaughter, but you understand. Still, I’ve had to let go of some things I enjoyed. Like the two-decades-long habit of weekly coffee with my pals. Or weekly walks with a friend on the trails around Carson. And leading Weight Watcher meetings and several volunteer gigs. But by giving up those things, I have time for others. As I did when I retired eight years ago, I’m rethinking priorities. I’ll try to only add back in the most important things. That’s the challenge. That’s the hope.
Here’s a partial list: Volunteer at my granddaughter’s school and have regular sleepovers with said granddaughter. Weekly family dinners and long walks most mornings. More reading. More writing. Coffee with friends now and then.
You know what? I can actually see daylight in my schedule. Breathing space. Elbow room. Except this Wednesday, of course, when I’ll drive down to Carson for coffee with my friends, have my hair done, go to yoga, and be back in Reno in time to pick up granddaughter from school. Yes, my life is still full, but only of the best possible stuff.
Husband: You know the best part of living up here? You don’t run into people you know at the store.
Me: You know the worst part? You never run into people you know at the store.
For nearly forty years, we lived in a relatively small town. We both had careers, but I also volunteered with the Girl Scouts, PTA and Food for Thought. I taught school. I attended classes at the community center and the community college, went to Weight Watchers, and wrote for the local newspaper. People know me. A trip to the farmer’s market or the doctor would frequently mean I’d run into someone I know. For better or worse. I’m a social person (ask anyone), but for twenty years I avoided one supermarket because it was in the same neighborhood as the school at which I taught. A quick stop turned into a parent conference or a reunion as I tried to discreetly choose a hemorrhoid remedy. Or something for feminine itch. Or a bottle of gin.
I rarely went farther than my mailbox without my hair done and make-up on. The law of perversity prevailed: The worse I looked, the more likely it was that I would run into someone important. So I always dressed with at least a thought about who I’d run into. My boss? The PTA president ? A school board member?
Now that we live forty miles away in a large city, I have yet to run into an acquaintance at the market. Not one. The people here—except for my family–have no idea who I am. I find it freeing in a way. I can reinvent myself because no one has any expectations. I used to think I did my make-up for me, because I hated seeing that pale, tired-looking face in the mirror. Now, I’m not so sure.
Perhaps it is also the law of diminishing returns. The effort of putting on make-up—and then taking it off—every day doesn’t give me the pay-off I hope to see. Is just being clean and dressed enough now?
In fact, today maybe I’ll just wear a hat, sunglasses and a smile and call it good. Maybe. I’ll see what the old lady in the mirror says.
Moving anywhere after twenty-five years requires some adjustment. We are, after all, creatures of habit. We expect our coffee cup, the bathroom, the grocery store to be in the same place, even if we aren’t. But we’ve traveled enough to adapt to and even enjoy new surroundings. So that’s what I’m trying to so here, even if I can’t seem to hold the big-picture geography in my head–you know, my place in space–without looking out a window.
Seriously, this apartment complex has so many amenities (pool, gym, tennis court), I can easily think of it as a vacation rental, like the condos we’ve rented in Hawaii. That helps. And like being on vacation, I’m learning where all the shops are, including four good markets, two drugstores, and many restaurants, all less than ten minutes away.
Another point that makes this feel like a vacation is that I’m living with a pared down number of possessions. Fewer clothes and shoes. Fewer cooking utensils. Simply less stuff. And you know what? I’m fine. I keep a list handy of things to pick up the next time we’re at the house, but it’s getting shorter, not longer.
Less maintenance too. Smaller house to clean. Fewer bathrooms. No lawns to mow. No garden to weed. See? Vacation!
More good news is that after a week on “vacation,” I’ve had a couple of good night’s sleep in this new space and have set about establishing some familiar habits in my new environment. I’ve even used the gym here. And yesterday I went to the movies with my daughter and her family. For a decade we’ve only been together on vacation. The vacation mindset is once again reinforced.
Now, if I could only get the cabana boy to bring me a tall, frosty drink at poolside.
- I hate stairs. High ceilings in the first floor apartment mean more stairs to get to the second floor, where we live. Eighteen to be exact. And stairs are one of the reasons we’re selling our old house. I have to keep reminding myself this is merely a transition. It’s only temporary until our house sells and we have decided where we want to live.
- It’s good to hire people to help you move, especially if there are stairs involved. It was a pleasure watching professionals load and unload the truck. And carry heavy things up stairs.
- We have too much stuff. Whatever we sold, donated, put in storage or tossed out in the last year, wasn’t nearly enough. While I want to be comfortable and have things around me that please me, the thrifty side of me doesn’t want to pay for a big house just to store my crap. I feel another wave of whittling coming on.
- This apartment, while lovely—high ceilings, new carpet, walk-in closets, pool, gym, hot tub–is roughly one-third the size of my old house. See #3.
- Kitchen cabinets ought to be wide enough to fit a frying pan or Dutch oven. Bathroom drawers should accommodate more than a toothbrush. A pantry is a must. Oh, and a linen closet.
- I’m glad I sleep with my tech support guy who can install and troubleshoot all technology.
- My brain can only handle so much problem-solving and creativity at a time. And right now, that part of my brain is occupied with trying to play a giant game of Tetris as I organize too many necessities into too-few cabinets and drawers. My novel is on the back burner for the time being.
- I recognize these are first-world problems and I am grateful that at this stage in our life, we have the luxury of options. I’m especially grateful that we have this time living a one minute walk away from our daughter and her family.
- I really hate stairs.